Post-Pandemic Nacho Quest!
Welcome to the Post-Pandemic Nacho Quest! (And to those saying, “The pandemic is still ongoing” – I know, I know. This is just the first Nacho Quest since the beginning of the pandemic. Sharing finger foods hadn’t exactly been encouraged for a while, ya know?).
So why another Nacho Quest?
Well, things left off in 2019 and seemed final. The Nacho Finals determined the rankings of the 10 most highly rated nachos on the peninsula. But since then, so much has changed (including a global pandemic) so it was time to revisit a few places. Of my top 10, a few places have closed, moved and rebranded. Plus, new places have opened. It’s time to determine a new top 10!
So Halifax ReTales polled his social media followers to find out what were the top 3 nachos according to the Haligonians of Twitter and Facebook. The answer: 1) Antojo, 2) El Chino, 3) Harbourstone Pourhouse & Grill.
I exempted El Chino from this quest because, a) they aren’t open on Sundays, and b) I’m confident that the #1 ranked place on the Nacho Quest is still worthy. So I incorporated the restaurant with the fourth highest votes from the ReTales poll: Durty Nelly’s.
Alongside these 3, we revisited 4 places from the previous Top 10: Roxbury Urban Dive Bar, LevelBar (Prince George Hotel), Black Sheep, and Old Triangle.
Below are the results, listed in the order of their scores.
All nachos are scored according to 10 criteria: Aesthetic Appeal, Quality of Salsa & Sour Cream, Quality of Nacho Chips, Cheese Coverage, Topping Distribution, Quality of Toppings, Layering, Flavour Impression, Quality of Guacamole, and Perceived Value.
Since LA was attending from Sober City, and a few of us were abstaining from alcohol, I’ve also included a Sober City rating for each place:
A: printed menu with various options other than coffee/tea/pop.
B: printed menu with limited options. Maybe only one non-alcoholic beer.
C: no printed menu, but a couple interesting options.
D: no printed menu, but at least one non-alcoholic beer.
F: pop/tea/coffee, or “we can make you something”.
You can see the Sober City restaurant & bar guide here.
7th Place: Roxbury Urban Dive Bar
Were: $5 (2019)
“Honestly, offering ‘chips and salsa’ for $6.95 would be a better description” – Denton the Privateer.
These nachos surprised us when we first tried them in 2019 on The Rest Quest. Roxbury had recently opened, and the entire menu was $5. The nachos were served in a metal lunchbox, and were garnished with sexy slivers of green onion. All agreed, they were a small-but-mighty flavour bomb. They placed 6th in the Nacho Finals.
These nachos are no longer served in a metal lunchbox. The chips are no longer seasoned, and very little effort was taken in their presentation. They are a shadow of their former rendition. The chicken was in dry squares and not very tasty. These will be removed from the Top 10.
Biggest Strength: Cheap.
Biggest Weakness: Everything else.
Sober City Rating: F
6th Place: The Harbourstone Grill & Pourhouse
Were: $13 (2016)
“I feel like these nachos, once again, exist in their own category” – Denton the Privateer.
These were first reviewed on the Waterfront Quest of 2016 where they placed 3rd, and later underwent a pass/fail quest to determine if they deserved a place on the top 10. They didn’t make it. But I’ve always wondered if that was the right decision…
These were voted 3rd in the Halifax ReTales poll, and I was happy to revisit them. They were actually pretty much the same and we had the same critiques:
- too sweet/overpowered by maple bacon and caramelized onions / doesn’t deliver the nacho taste experience.
- would benefit from more veggies to counterbalance the sweet and grease.
- poor layering
There was good quality cheese (but the cheese looks better in the old picture), and a very nice sour cream (which we were told was spiked with dill, but in 2016 it was cilantro). I had one chip that filled my whole mouth with bacon bits, which was off-putting. I would have preferred larger pieces of bacon.
Biggest Strength: Best effort to jazz up sour cream.
Biggest Weakness: Layering.
Sober City Rating: B
5th Place: Durty Nelly’s
Were: $15 (2018)
“The seasoning salt, the bacon + onions, and the jalapenos have no synergy, and the salsa and sour cream have no taste to unite them. It’s simply too much” – Denton the Privateer.
These were supposed to be reviewed on the Argyle St. Quest of 2014, but Durty Nelly’s was closed for a staff event. They were officially unrated until “The Rest” Quest of 2018, on which they placed 4th (not making it to the Final 10).
These nachos had been entirely different every time I’d had them over the years, which made them hard to consider for a permanent list. At one point they were making a really nice house-made guacamole, but that doesn’t seem to be the case since at least 2018.
For meaty add-ons ($5), you can choose tandoori chicken, pulled pork, or bacon & caramelized onion. We chose the bacon and caramelized onion, which probably wasn’t the best choice (too sweet). Putting that aside, we generally enjoyed these. We especially liked the seasoned, house-made chips (which Durty Nelly’s has never used any time previous) which held up well to the cheesiness (of which there was plenty).
We really did not like the salsa and sour cream, which were somehow watery and tasteless and distracted from the nachos. We were told the guacamole ($4) was house-made but it certainly didn’t taste like it.
Biggest Strengths: Best cheese coverage, 2nd place for chips.
Biggest Weaknesses: Worst salsa, sour cream and guacamole of the day.
Sober City Rating: D
4th Place: Antojo
$16 / (half size $9)
“The way they have it piled isn’t doing justice to the ingredients” – ETT
We have never rated these nachos, but they were voted #1 on the Halifax ReTales poll.
There are two sizes of nachos, and we had the larger size ($16). We all thought these were kinda small, and had to confirm with our server that we didn’t have the half portion.
Add-ons are $5 and include various taco meats. We opted for the pork carnitas, which was a huge portion for $5. We also dished out $5 for a cup of guac and pico which we didn’t think was a good value for $5.
However, the cup of guac & pico was really tasty, whereas the pork had two main issues. 1) The pork was laid out in large chunks that needed to be ripped up by hand. 2) The pork had no flavour. Also, the best carnitas I’ve had featured rendered fatty bits, crispy bits and lean meat. This was all lean meat with no seasoning.
The highlight of these nachos were the seasoned house-made chips (very similar to Durty Nelly’s, which is part of the same restaurant group). The quality of the ingredients in general was a step above, and I’m always happy to see black beans, but there were some issues with layering. I don’t think the small cast iron pan was the best choice of serving dish.
Biggest Strengths: Best Chips, 2nd place for Aesthetic Appeal and Guacamole, tied 2nd for Toppings.
Biggest Weaknesses: Value (size & add-ons), some issues with toppings/layering.
Sober City Rating: A
2nd Place (tie): Old Triangle
Were: $14 (2019)
“The chicken is amazing and the jalapenos punch” – ReTales
“It’s the classic pub experience. All the good times you remember are relived in these cheesy, greasy, spicy chips!” – Denton the Privateer
These were exactly as we remembered. “Mucho cheeso,” commented Cailin. “Stringy all over. Good pull”. The Triangle uses a blend of pre-shredded cheese and house-shredded cheese from a block of cheddar. The real cheddar cheese imparts a sharper flavour and more grease than the pre-shredded Sysco blend (which many pubs use).
The salsa was also surprisingly good for a typical pub platter.
But the real highlight is the chicken. It is house-roasted and hand-pulled. Moist, flavourful, and you’ll even find some dark meat.
Biggest Strengths: 1st place for Value, Salsa & Sour Cream, and Topping Distribution. Excellent cheese factor and high quality chicken.
Biggest Weaknesses: Greasy cheese can make for soggy chips. Generally basic flavours/nothing fancy.
Sober City Rating: B
2nd Place (tie): Black Sheep
Were: $14.50 (2019).
“This is a terrific example of synergy: each and every ingredient is complimentary to the whole experience” – Denton the Privateer.
These were originally reviewed on “The Rest” Quest of 2019, on which they placed 3rd. They proceeded to the Final Quest, where they placed 4th. Since then, Black Sheep has relocated. When they reopened, nachos were not on the menu. But we are pleased to see that they are back.
“The last time I had these, all I tasted was honey mustard” – ReTales.
Indeed, we had been critical of the sweet (not spicy nor smokey) chipotle mustard on previous occasions, but somehow these nachos today were more balanced, more colourful, and appeared to even have more brisket.
“The beef was glorious,” wrote LA.
The beef brisket played nicely with the cheddar, sauerkraut, green onion crema and chipotle mustard – if not exactly in the way you would expect nachos to taste. They are stacked with the uttermost care and prestige. Dainty and whimsical – there are a perfect conversation piece with some cocktails. Compared to previous renditions, these seem to be smaller but more sophisticated.
As before, house-made guacamole is included (but not salsa or sour cream). We all felt there was a little too much cumin in the guac, but it did jive with the other flavours.
Biggest Strengths: 1st Place for Aesthetic Appeal, Quality of Toppings, Layering, and Flavour. 2nd place (tie) Topping Distribution.
Biggest Weaknesses: Basic chips, and not really “nachos”
Sober City Rating: A
1st Place: LevelBar
Were: $12 (2019).
Now: $16 ($8 during Happy Hour)
“These are my fave to date” – ReTales
“Good but not running back for them” – Cailin O’Neil
“These are excellent nachos which offer a slightly more refined experience while still staying familiar enough to the class nacho profile” – Denton the Privateer
“I’m not mad at it but I also don’t care” – LA
For the price ($8 during Happy Hour), you’re really not going to find better, more beautifully stacked, nachos in the city. However, we found a few things less perfect than previous encounters with these nachos. The chips were somehow less warm and crisp, and didn’t hold up as well to the moisture. They were definitely cheesier (and greasier) than the first time we tried them, and there were warm globs of salsa dispersed throughout (which divided opinions).
I was pleased to see the addition of black beans, but saddened by the omission of the kalamata olives. The guacamole was amazing as ever, but sour cream was mysteriously omitted.
In general, these were perfectly layered (no bare chips) with quality ingredients and very flavourful. They are deceptive in their size (more food than you think), and I would recommend these to anyone.
LA and Cailin were less impressed, but I think this is partially due to being very full from a long day of nacho questing. Even so, LevelBar took down the #1 spot. Impressive.
Biggest Strengths: 1st place for Guacamole, and 1st Overall. 2nd Place for Layering, Salsa, and Value.
Biggest Weaknesses: Chips, and the lack of kalamata olives!
Sober City Rating: C
You’ll notice I included the past prices as well as the current prices, because I think this tells an interesting story about how much inflation there has been since I started this quest. Nachos have increased from $2-$7 in price, while wages have remained stagnant. Employers are wondering why they can’t find staff. This is it. An employee’s market is emerging. PAY MORE.
Nachos for the people!